All men in Kuwait belong to a diwaniya or have their own diwaniya. The word finds its origins in the word diwan. The diwan was the office of the Amir where he met his subjects, listened to their problems and met members of the community to hold consultations with them.
Today’s diwaniyas are a meeting place for men, where topics such as politics, business, the stock exchange etc are discussed. It is also a way of staying in touch with friends, exchanging ideas and keeping relationships alive in today’s fast paced life.
Diwaniya is normally a large reception room within or outside the main house, with all facilities to make family or friends comfortable including tea and snacks.
The diwaniyas are a barometre of public opinion, a unique institution that has existed throughout the history of Kuwait.
The Bedouins were, and are known, for their hospitality, pride, honour, courage and endurance. Their precarious, wandering existence demanded these traits as they tended their camels, sheep and goats, protected their extended family and honoured tribal allegiances. The Bedu women wove the black tents in which they lived. These long and low tents were made of strips woven out of goat’s hair or sheep’s wool or a mixture of both. The Bedouin’s livestock was also a mobile source of fresh meat. Besides livestock and dairy products, the woven items made by the women and known as ‘sadu’ work, were an important source of income.
The modernisation of Kuwait changed the lifestyle of the desert Bedouins. With amazing adaptability, they took advantage of the new work opportunities and the prosperity created by the discovery of oil. Each succeeding year saw fewer and fewer black tents in the desert as tribesmen opted for government sponsored education and professional training.
The Bedouin made the journey from tents and camels to houses and air-conditioned cars, but retained their traditions, their cultural identity and their character traits. Today, as they go to University, go abroad for a Masters, and help in the further development of their country, these traits are kept intact.
In 1979, the Al Sadu Society, based at Sadu House, was formed to protect and preserve Bedouin culture, particularly Bedouin crafts, from extinction in the wake of the changes brought about by modernisation. The weaving of wool is the oldest craft practised by the Bedouins of Kuwait. The weaving process is known as ‘Al Sadu’, a term also used for the Bedouin loom.
The ‘sadu’, or bedu weaving, has a long history in the Middle East. It is the speciality of Bedu women who made the tent in which they lived, and its furnishings, such as rugs and cushions. They also made articles like men’s cloaks, saddlebags etc. that suited the Bedu migratory lifestyle. It is a craft that requires a high degree of dexterity and skill. The designs reflect the austerity of the natural environment of the desert and are governed by the wider principles of Islamic culture.
Pearling, an ancient occupation, was vital to Kuwait’s economy at the end of the 19th century. In the 1930s this lucrative trade, already suffering due to Japanese cultured pearls, experienced a severe drop in demand because of economic depression in America and Europe, and the tradition began to die out.
However, pearling was not merely a trade or a means of subsistence for the Kuwaitis. It was an integrated social system which has left a rich heritage of traditions to be enjoyed by the present generations. The general term for pearl fishery is ghaus (literally diving) and everyone connected with it is known as ghawawis. The methods of harvesting pearl oysters hasn’t changed for thousands of years and has rich heritage and folklore woven around it.
Today, this tradition is preserved in Kuwait under the patronage of HH the Amir. Every pearling season, in June, Kuwaiti youth learn about their heritage by participating in the Pearl Diving Festival, thus keeping a part of the country’s history alive.
Kuwait has a rich maritime tradition, of which boats were an important part. Dhows, those huge wooden vessels, were a speciality of Kuwait. Even in this age of super tankers, dhow building is a carefully preserved art, though its reduced significance has now restricted this activity to the Doha Bay area. However, dhow building is a dying art since master craftsmen’s sons no longer follow their fathers’ profession.
The same simple material and tools, used for centuries, are still utilised. Traditionally, teak for planking and for the keel, stem, and the masts was imported from India. Rope came from Zanzibar and the sail canvas was made locally.
Falconry, for long an integral part of desert life, grew out of a necessity to supplement the meagre diet of dates, milk and bread. However, it eventually evolved into a sport enjoyed by the rich and poor alike. Hunting parties originally pursued their quarry on horse back or on camels, but now powerful four-wheeled vehicles are used.
The Saker and the Peregrine are the two main species of falcons used in Kuwait. Wild falcons are trapped during their autumn migration and trained in readiness for the hunting season, which starts in November.